It’s been a rollercoaster of a year, with political shenanigans sucker-punching us around every corner, so to sit back and laugh – real throw-your-head-back chuckling – offers some wonderful respite.
And laugh you will at this year’s pantomime Puss in Boots.
It’s a delightful mix of fun songs, a few below-the-belt jokes and unending exuberance.
The Pemads production, currently running at The Little Theatre, is undoubtedly one of the best pantomimes staged in the city for a very long time.
The cast, ranging in age from seven to 70, never waver in their efforts to keep the audience engaged.
Playing the dame for the first time in his illustrious acting career is Leslie Speyers, whose Queen Wendolina is a treat to watch.
He is camp, over-the-top and delightfully rude. He raises a barrel of laughs and clearly loves every minute of it.
Speyers is marvelously supported by Mark Farrow, who plays King Wally, a rather hen-pecked elderly husband who never gets a word in edgeways.
Farrow’s true skill is staying in character for every second on stage. His hands shake constantly and you never doubt that he truly is a doddering old man.
It’s little wonder that Farrow, who directs the show alongside his wife Yolande, is so comfortable on stage – he first acted in a Pemads production in 1979 when he played Little Michael in Peter Pan.
Speyers and Farrow play the parents of Princess Esmerelda – sweetly played by Abi Ranwell – who they need to marry off in order to buffer their dwindling coffers.
True fairytale style
But in true fairytale style, she sets her heart on a poor boy whose step-brothers have inherited the family fortune.
Said step-brothers Jasper, played by James van der Merwe, and Jethro, played by Jan Storm, work well as a comedic duo with Van der Merwe the slightly more savvy and Storm the dumb but sweet sidekick. Their comic timing is a real asset to the show.
Jack, played by Thomas Pearson, is left with just his cat Puss in Boots, played by Sikho Gaika.
Both young men rise to the occasion with Pearson seeming older and more suave than a youngster only in Grade 10. ten.
Gaika is nothing short of fabulous. He moves easily around the stage, quite convincing as a feisty feline. He is confident and great fun to watch.
And fun is where it’s at, with the musical numbers so eclectic you never know what to expect next.
It’s a no-holds-barred smorgasbord of song with everything from One Direction to Right Said Fred and Meghan Trainor in the mix.
As our hero Puss works out a plan to help his master get the girl, he must, however, contend with a little meddling from Fairy Pernicia, who is well-played by Anke Staphorst, who can also put on quite the frightening villainous laugh.
Trying to stop her is Fairy Priscilla, played by Vanessa Smith, who is the antithesis of her sneaky sister. Pernicia is working for a Scottish ogre, Grimgrab.
A Scottish Van der Merwe
Quite why Grimgrab, played by Carel van der Merwe, is Scottish I do not know but it works. Van der Merwe is very funny and the accent somehow makes him funnier.
Grimgrab is in love with Esmerelda and will let nothing stop him from winning her hand.
But of course, he has not counted on Puss, who plans to put a spanner in the works.
And so the show continues until its inevitable conclusion – the engagement of the young pair.
Helping make the production the fun affair it is – is the very enthusiastic ensemble cast that includes Dennis Slattery, who is somewhat of an institution on PE stages over the decades.
They dance with abandon and sing their hearts out, albeit maybe slightly off-key once in a while, giving the show energy and oomph.One of the littlest members of the cast, Sisa Ngqisha, just seven, makes a perfect little fairy assisting Priscilla. Her face lights up when she sings and dances and she’s bound to go far on PE stages in the future.
She, along with another teeny, tiny cast member, Josie Ranwell, provide the “aaw” factor that offsets the slightly seedier side of the show.
The naughty jokes and political jibes come just often enough – but not too often – to shock and delight the audience. Despite the jokes, which will go above the heads of younger audience members, the show is perfect family fare.
The costumes are bold and very well constructed, the choreography slick and full of fun and the music a hoot.
It’s a job well done all round for the directors and choreographer Lauren Volker and musical director Richard Campbell.
The show will run until December 17 and tickets are available through Computicket.